I'll be the first to admit, there are people in my life that I wish were different. I might want them to act differently, see the world differently, understand me or others differently, treat themselves differently. I might want them to make changes that, from my outside perspective, I believe will help them lead a happier and more fulfilling life. Take a moment to think about the people (or situations, or aspects of yourself) that you would like to be different.
It is a normal experience to want someone or something to be different. However, this can grow into an inability to accept this person and, in turn, can create a struggle in your relationship with them.
What Acceptance Is and Is Not
Acceptance is not the same as agreement, approval, or giving up your own rights and boundaries. You can disagree with a person's choice and still practice acceptance of the fact that this was the choice they made; you can accept them as a person while disagreeing with a choice. You may disapprove of an action while still accepting this action as the reality. You may accept someone as they are while still implementing appropriate boundaries that protect your rights as a person.
Acceptance grounds you in what is true of this person or situation at this moment- it is nothing more and nothing less. We cannot work towards change or growth without first accepting what is true in this moment.
What Practicing Acceptance Might Mean
In the process of accepting someone as they are, you may experience some uncomfortable feelings. You may feel angry or sad that this person is not different. You may feel disappointment at accepting that the person, at this moment in time, is not the person that you wished or hoped they would be. You may need to grieve that accepting this person as they are at this moment may mean that this relationship must change or that you must end this relationship; you may need to grieve that accepting this person means accepting that he/she cannot fulfill certain needs or roles in your life.
One of the reasons you may struggle against acceptance is that you do not want to face these emotions. You may not want to face the reality of what it means that this person is not who you want them to be at this moment. Give yourself the space for these emotional experiences.
You may also notice that the parts of others that you have difficulty accepting reflect parts of yourself that you reject. In this situation, you may struggle against accepting this part of another person because you have not yet accepted it within yourself. It might be helpful to ask yourself What is it that prevents me from accepting this? Does this aspect of this person trigger past memories or feelings related to another relationship or to myself?
How Acceptance Might Transform Relationships
While accepting others for who they are at this moment may give way to challenging emotions or decisions, it may also open the door for new opportunities. When you are fighting against acceptance, you are pouring energy into expecting others to be who you believe they should be. This often leads to disappointment. Focusing your attention and energy on who you believe this person should be or shouldn't be prevents you from seeing who the person is.
What might be different if, rather than struggling to make this person someone other than who they are, you accepted this person as they are in this moment? You will need to allow yourself to notice and process the feelings that arise, and you may need to shift your expectations. But this may also allow the person to show up in a way that they are capable of, and in a way that has gone unnoticed or rejected in the past.
Perhaps you will find that, although they cannot be who you wish them to be, they can bring meaning to your relationship and life in a different way. Maybe you will find that acceptance allows you to engage with and be grateful for the person they are, rather than rejecting or feeling disappointed in who they are not. And it is possible that acceptance will allow you to determine that this is not a healthy relationship for you at this time, and that you must step away from it in order to care for yourself and engage in other relationships more fully.
To learn more or to book an appointment, contact me via telephone or email.
Brenna Burke, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Santa Clarita, CA. She provides individual psychotherapy and couples counseling. Information provided through this website is for informational purposes only. It does not create a therapist-client relationship and does not replace clinical assessment or professional consultation.